Re: RARA-AVIS: Marlowe's morality

From: Mario Taboada (
Date: 02 Sep 2003

A quick followup to Kerry's post:

I've been carefully rereading and thinking about Paul Tillich's classic _The Courage to Be_, a large part of which deals with the distinction between fear and anxiety and the two types of courage that go with them. Fear, once objectified, can be dealt with by heroism of the Marlowe type. One might say that the hero is built for it. Anxiety, on the other hand, cannot be really resolved or eliminated by most people (great meditators dedicated their lives to facing it, but this is not practical for common folk).

Thus the hero, including the hardboiled hero, is not built for dealing with anxiety, which is the threat of nonbeing. As Tillich and others, (notably Sartre and Heidegger) have pointed out, you cannot talk away anxiety, and attempts at heroic action under anxiety are likely to produce only more anxiety -- and, as a consequence, the hero often becomes a victim or a psychopath, depending on how he acts.

In our age, which is the hangover of the triumphant Industrial Revolution, it is anxiety that dominates private and public life. Therefore our time and its literature are not fertile ground to the hero (though occasions for heroism, or acting selflessly and fearlessly, do exist, obviously).

Since Nietszche proclaimed that "God is dead", the existential void (nonbeing taking central place despite the trappings of consumption, "progress" and "growth") has only become more pronounced.

In literature, it can manifest itself both in the stories of disoriented and disillusioned middle-class losers that are so common in the New Yorker and in the violent, explosive, often illogical noir stories that we discuss here.

The pure, "pornographic" violence mentioned by another poster seems to me actually an attempt to resurrect the hero -- this time with more sophisticated weapons but still believing that he can set things right. No such thing is possible in a noir world, which is the world we live in. A literature of unpredictable violence, born of failure and emptiness, seems to me realistic.

In this world, a character like Marlowe is an admirable anachronism -- as admirable as he is irrelevant.

Best regards,


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